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Cannes: 10 Indian Filmmakers That Should Be on the Festival’s Radar

This year's Official Selection doesn't include a single title by an Indian director.

“The Lunchbox”

Reema Kagti

Kagti is widely known as one-half of the Reema Kagti/Zoya Akhtar screenwriting duo, responsible for penning commercial hits like 2011’s “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” and 2015’s “Dil Dhadakne Do.” But as a director in her own right, her short filmography has a distinct indie slant; her 2007 debut feature, “Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd” was a quirky look at newlywed relationships and driven almost entirely by character and conversation over a conventional three-act plot, while 2012’s “Talaash” blended beautifully layered lead roles into a twist-filled thriller.

Thanks to her astute observations of the human condition and her ability to extract layered performances from her actors, all eyes are on Kagti’s next project, “Gold.” The story of India’s first post-independence Olympic medal, it may not be the “high art” fare that makes it to Cannes’ competition lineup, but might eventually be worth a look for the Un Certain Regard section.

Shubhashish Bhutiani (Mukti Bhawan)

Cannes loved the narrative nuances and emotional textures that won Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox” a Grand Golden Rail for in 2013, so it’s surprising that debutant feature director Shubhashish Bhutiani’s 2016 “Hotel Salvation,” with its similarly understated yet compelling syntax, didn’t make it to any part of the program this year. The story of a son who reluctantly obliges his aging father’s request to spend his remaining days in the holy city of Varanasi, “Hotel Salvation” caters well to Cannes’ proclivity for low-key, family-focused dramas soaked in cultural contexts, where the city plays as much of a role as the characters.

“Hotel Salvation”

Bhutiani won a UNESCO award at Venice for the film, which also had well-received screenings at the Busan, Dubai, and Vesoul film festivals, among others. Combine that with the successful run of Bhutiani’s first short, “Kush,” which also won at Venice and was shortlisted for the 2014 Oscars, and the director is undeniably a rising star.

READ MORE: Cannes 2017: The Competition Has a Higher Percentage of Female Filmmakers, But It’s Still Pretty Bad

Ananth Mahadevan (Doctor Rakhmabai)

At a festival where biopics tend to fare well, Ananth Mahadevan’s work would be a natural fit. A veteran in the filmmaking and television industries, Mahadevan has found much of his recent success directing dramas and true stories that shed light on notable national issues and figures, from an unrecognized freedom fighter in 2015’s “Gour Hari Dastaan” to the holes in India’s education system in 2016’s “Rough Book.”

His 2017 Marathi-language feature, “Doctor Rakhmabai” — centered on India’s first practicing female doctor — incorporates several ingredients of a Cannes-friendly film, combining a real-life tale and a historic backdrop with themes of female empowerment and challenging social conventions. His credibility is further boosted by the fact that all three of his latest films have starred actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, one of the most well-known and respected Indian faces on the international festival circuit.

Nagesh Kukunoor

Given Kukunoor’s reputation as one of the pioneering modern indie filmmakers in India, his 1998 “Hyderabad Blues” becoming the most successful independent film in the country, it’s almost inconceivable that Cannes hasn’t yet highlighted his work. His preference for modest budgets and penchant for anchoring his simple but crisp stories with emotional cores, as seen in later films like the coming-of-age tale “Rockford” and the cricket-centric “Iqbal,” cemented his national following; but Kukunoor really burst onto the global festival scene in 2014, when “Lakshmi,” a real life-inspired story on teen prostitution, premiered at Toronto and won the Best Narrative award at that year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.


His 2015 follow-up, “Dhanak,” was an even more resounding festival favorite, charming juries from Berlin to Montreal with its pint-sized leads and life-affirming optimism. While the writer/director’s auteurist tendencies should have been on Cannes’ radar long ago, his upcoming “Daak Ghar,” based on Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same title, could be a particularly suitable fit for the festival, appealing to its roots in highbrow material.

Shlok Sharma

Sharma cut his teeth as an assistant director on unorthodox filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s sets, working on festival favorites like and “Dev D.” and “Gangs of Wasseypur” (which screened at Cannes in 2013). Kashyap’s gutsy, irreverent spirit clearly rubbed off; Sharma’s debut feature last year, “Haraamkhor,” made its own festival waves as the boldly-told taboo love story between a professor and his student.

His next feature “Zoo,” currently in post-production, is a Cannes magnet if there ever was one: depicting the intersecting lives of several youth of varying social classes residing in the heart of Mumbai. If the film lives up to its promise of painting urban realities from unlikely perspectives, it may establish Sharma even further as a filmmaker to keep following.

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